The Heat Is Online

Maryland Climate Activists on State Police "Terrorist" List

Environmental activists say they were on terrorist list


State police included Chesapeake Climate Action Network members


The Capital Gazette (Annapolis, MD), Oct. 25, 2008


SILVER SPRING - A handful of professional environmental advocates were placed on a Maryland State Police list of suspected terrorists, activists charged this morning.


Three staffers for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network have learned they were on a list compiled by the state police, which also included nonviolent peace activists and anti-death penalty advocates, said Mike Tidwell, the group's founder and executive director.


Mr. Tidwell was shocked when he opened a letter informing him he was on the list.


"I was astonished," he said. "I immediately wondered how I was being spied on. Has my phone been tapped? Have they been reading my e-mails? Have they posed as concerned environmentalists and been coming to our meetings?"


Maryland State Police officials have acknowledged that in 2005 and 2006, officers conducted surveillance on peace and anti-death penalty groups. A police spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment this morning.


This is the first time it's been made clear that environmental professionals were targeted.


Chesapeake Climate Action Network employees are regulars in Annapolis, lobbying state lawmakers and holding rallies and marches during the General Assembly session.


The surveillance and the existence of peace activists on the suspected terrorist list were exposed this summer after the ACLU sought documents under the Maryland Public Information Act.


In recent weeks, the state police admitted to wrongly listing 53 activists as terrorists.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network organized a rally this morning outside the Silver Spring Metro station to draw attention to the issue.


Environmental activists held signs that said "Environmentalism is not terrorism" and "Stop global warming, not activism."


"This is alarming on so many levels," said Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the League of Conservation Voters. "This is wrong." Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he will introduce legislation next session to make sure that the Maryland State Police cannot conduct surveillance on political groups unless there is "reasonable suspicion" they will break the law.


"There's a difference between community organizers and terrorists," he said. "They are the very opposite of terrorists."


David Rocah, an attorney with the Maryland ACLU, said the discrepancies in the dates and the explanation that the Maryland State Police were only doing surveillance on anti-death penalty groups emphasized the need for a full and transparent accounting of how far the spying went.


"The Maryland State Police are not being straight with the people of Maryland," he said during the rally.


Mr. Tidwell said at the rally that none of the environmentalists were connected with the groups previously mentioned as having been spied on.


He said it's dangerous territory when the police focus on people who just want to improve the environment.


"The fact that the Maryland State Police was presumably surveilling mainstream environmental organizers puts a chill on all potential organizing for the environment, and that's bad for Maryland," he said.


Members of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network have occasionally engaged in demonstrations that extend beyond the typical chanting and waving banners. But even their most dramatic demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, Mr. Tidwell said.


In 2004, Mr. Tidwell was part of a group arrested while demonstrating outside a power plant in Southern Maryland. He was found guilty of one count of "impeding passage of persons/vehicle." A charge of disturbing the peace was dropped.


In October 2006, two CCAN protestors climbed a ledge over the front door of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration building in Silver Spring as part of a demonstration.


Mr. Tidwell pointed out that both incidents happened outside the state police's admitted surveillance window of March 2005 to May 2006. He also noted that the other two CCAN employees - former Maryland organizer Josh Tulkin and another who is remaining anonymous - had spotless criminal records.


"We at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network are innocent of everything except peacefully improving the health of the state of Maryland ... It's a sad day when people who promote windmills and solar panels are described as suspected terrorists," Mr. Tidwell said.


The police have mailed letters to people named on the list, offering to let them review their files before the files are deleted.


( c) 2008 Capital Gazette Communications, Inc., Annapolis, Md.